<i>Ex-leader's detention tests Taiwanese democracy</i>
The arrest of former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian in a corruption case yesterday is set to deepen political divisions in the normally fractious country, with the former leader's supporters accusing the government of a political vendetta.
Chen's detention which started dramatically Tuesday when he was led away in handcuffs from a prosecutors' office drew small protests by supporters in his pro-independence camp and cheers from rival China, which claims the democratic island as part of its territory. Newspapers in China plastered photos of a handcuffed Chen on front pages.
The Taipei court ordered Chen held under a type of pre-indictment detention after prosecutors accused him of laundering money and illegally tapping a special fund during his presidency.
Chen has denied any wrongdoing. But the detention marks a further downfall for a landmark figure in Taiwanese politics. A crusading lawyer-turned-politician, Chen won the presidency for the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party in 2000, wresting political control for the first time in 50 years from the Nationalists.
But corruption allegations helped cripple the last years of his eight years in office. The DPP candidate was trounced in the March election by the Nationalist's Ma Ying-jeou, who has pushed speedily to improve relations with Beijing.
Ma struck a sympathetic note about Chen's detention. "It saddens instead of cheering us, and I will take it as a lesson personally," Ma said in a radio interview early Wednesday.
Opponents of Chen, however, lit off fireworks in celebration.
Relations with China remain a divisive issue in Taiwan, which split from the mainland amid civil war nearly six decades ago. Some Taiwanese want the island to declare formal independence from China, a small number want to unify, while most people support the fuzzy status quo.
Chen's detention further demoralised his Democratic Progressive Party, with politicians calling the arrest politically motivated. About 20 DPP lawmakers denounced the detention at a news conference Wednesday, calling it part of a government plot to "thoroughly crush the opposition in the name of democracy and justice."